Claudio Gonzalez, Sagamore Farm, and Jevian Toledo were honored for their 2017 successes in Maryland during the inaugural Renaissance Awards Feb. 12 at the Sagamore Pendry in Baltimore.
The program, which attracted more than 200 people, was put together by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, Maryland Horse Breeders Association, and Maryland Jockey Club. Previously, the MTHA and MHBA held separate awards programs.
The awards for trainer, owner and jockey, which had been selected by the MTHA, were put to a vote by writers and publicists as part of the new awards format.
Gonzalez, the Maryland trainer of the year, won 118 races last year, of which 90 wins were at Maryland tracks. He was the leading trainer at the Laurel Park summer and fall meets as well as the Maryland State Fair at Timonium meet. Last year he claimed the mare My Magician—she was voted Maryland-bred older female—for $25,000 in May, and she subsequently won three stakes.
"I'd like to thank all of the owners who believed in me, as well as my family and my staff," said Gonzalez.
Sagamore Farm, which won 31 races last year, more than half of them in Maryland, was voted Maryland owner of the year. Sagamore horses, all trained by Horacio DePaz, performed well in stakes company in Maryland and around the country.
Hunter Rankin, appointed president of Sagamore Farm in 2016, credited owner Kevin Plank for his investment in the historic property and its eventual rise as a racing and breeding operation.
"The idea was to bring this historic landmark in Maryland back to where it was meant to be," Rankin said. "We appreciate all the help people have given us over the years."
Toledo, the Maryland jockey of the year, won 144 races in the state last year to lead all riders. He easily captured the Laurel fall meet title with 61 wins and was aboard several stakes winners including Whirlin Curlin, who was voted champion Maryland-bred 2-year-old male.
Toledo, who has been sidelined by an injury suffered earlier this year, thanked all the owners and trainers and his agent, Marty Leonard, for his 2017 success.
The MTHA last fall solicited nominations for the grooms of the year that would each represent Laurel and Pimlico Race Course. Arturo Pinones earned the title for Laurel, and Enrique Lopez was honored for Pimlico. Though the awards are for 2017, the two men have contributed to the backstretch for years and have been with their respective employers for quite a while.
Pinones been with trainer Donald Barr for more than 20 years, while Lopez has been employed by trainer Ann Merryman for the past 14 years.
Pinones, a native of Mexico, said he appreciated the opportunity to attend the Renaissance Awards and brought along his wife and son. His daughter Diana was on hand as part of the MTHA team. Lopez, who returns to his native Mexico for a short time each winter, was unable to attend but Merryman has said he is an integral part of the operation.
Regarding the equine awards, it was a sweep for Skeedattle Associates' Just Howard, who was voted Maryland-bred horse of the year as well as Maryland-bred 3-year-old male and Maryland-bred turf runner.
Just Howard, a colt by English Channel out of the Alphabet Soup mare Aruban Sandwich, was purchased for $37,000 by Skeedattle Associates at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2015. The Graham Motion trainee was unplaced in one start at 2, but last year won four of 10 starts and banked $267,410.
Willie White, president of the MHBA and a partner in Skeedattle with Lou Rehak and Bob Orndorff, said all participants in racing and breeding are hopeful of finding another horse like Just Howard. He said things just have to fall into place.
"We've been doing it for 28 years, and it is hard work always hoping for the next good horse," White said. "And then you wake up one day and that horse is in your barn."
White said he hopes Just Howard, who won the grade III Commonwealth Derby last year, will compete in the grade II Dixie Stakes at Pimlico in May.
Just Howard was one of two multiple award winners—the other was Crabcakes—for 2017. He was bred by the late Howard Bender, who received his fifth Maryland breeder of the year award. Bender also bred Blu Moon Ace, who was a finalist for two awards.
Crabcakes, owned by Morgan's Ford Farm, bred by Buckingham Farm and trained by Bernard Houghton, was voted champion Maryland-bred 3-year-old filly and Maryland-bred sprinter. Crabcakes, by Maryland-bred stallion of the year Great Notion out of the Charismatic mare Aunt Elaine, won two Maryland-bred stakes last year and also finished second in three open stakes and third in another.
Houghton saluted his aunt, Elizabeth "Binnie" Houghton of Buckingham Farm, who died last year, for her commitment to Thoroughbred breeding in Maryland.
"I'd like to thank everybody here for a great year," Houghton said. "I'd also like to thank Aunt B, who's not here but started the whole thing."
A portion of the ticket-sale proceeds from the Renaissance Awards will benefit Beyond The Wire, Maryland's Thoroughbred aftercare program, horse industry scholarships, and the Maryland Horse Industry Foundation.
Renaissance Award Winners for 2017
MTHA Laurel Groom of the Year: Arturo Pinones
MTHA Pimlico Groom of the Year: Enrique Lopez
Maryland Owner of the Year: Sagamore Farm
Maryland Trainer of the Year: Claudio Gonzalez
Maryland Jockey of the Year: Jevian Toledo
Maryland Breeder of the Year: Howard Bender
Maryland Broodmare of the Year: Parlez
Maryland Stallion of the Year: Great Notion
Maryland-Bred Horse of the Year: Just Howard
Maryland-Bred Turf Runner: Just Howard
Maryland-Bred Sprinter: Crabcakes
Maryland-Bred 4-Year-Old and Up Filly and Mare: My Magician
Maryland-Bred 4-Year-Old and Up Male: Struth
Maryland-Bred 3-Year-Old Filly: Crabcakes
Maryland-Bred 3-Year-Old Male: Just Howard
Maryland-Bred 2-Year-Old Filly: Limited View
Maryland-Bred 2-Year-Old Colt: Whirlin Curlin
Maryland-Bred Steeplechaser: Swoop